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NHL Preview from The Sports Network

Thursday, December 23rd (All times eastern)

Pittsburgh Penguins (23-10-2) at Washington Capitals (20-12-4), 7 p.m.

(Sports Network) - In just over one week's time the Penguins and Capitals will take their rivalry outdoors when they meet for the Winter Classic on New Year's Day. Tonight, however, the clubs will meet indoors as Washington hosts Pittsburgh at the Verizon Center in D.C.

The Penguins will host this year's Winter Classic at Heinz Field, home of the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers. It will mark the first time the event is being staged at a football stadium since Buffalo hosted the Penguins at the inaugural Winter Classic on Jan. 1, 2008 at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The last two Classics were held at baseball stadiums (Wrigley Field, 2009; Fenway Park, 2010).

Pittsburgh, which beat Buffalo in a memorable shootout at the '08 Classic, will also become the first team to play in two Winter Classics.

Tonight's test marks the first of four meetings this season between the Pens and Capitals. Washington won all four encounters between the clubs last year and the Caps have taken seven of eight and eight of 10 overall in the series. Pittsburgh has dropped two straight and three of its last four in the nation's capital.

The Penguins have won two straight and 14 of their last 16 games and are coming off Wednesday's 5-2 victory over visiting Florida. Sidney Crosby scored a first-period goal to extend his point streak to 22 games, as Pittsburgh used an early three-goal burst to dump the Panthers at CONSOL Energy Center.

Crosby tied Dany Heatley for the longest consecutive point streak of the post- lockout era. Heatley also recorded at least one point in 22 games back in 2005-06 while playing for Ottawa.

Matt Cooke, Mark Letestu, Ben Lovejoy and Pascal Dupuis also lit the lamp for the Penguins.

"It's about getting a good start. The last few games we've done that, starting off well, and creating pressure and getting shots," said Crosby. "Fortunately we got some goals early."

Brent Johnson stopped 20-of-21 shots through two periods for Pittsburgh, but was forced to leave the game with a lower-body injury. Marc-Andre Fleury made 15 saves in the third and will start tonight, while Pittsburgh recalled John Curry from the AHL to serve as the backup.

Pittsburgh, which is just one point behind Philadelphia for the first spot in the Atlantic Division and NHL, is 12-6-1 as the host this season.

Washington, meanwhile, will aim for a third straight win on the heels of an eight-game losing streak tonight. The Capitals snapped an 0-6-2 stretch with Sunday's victory in Ottawa and then made it two in a row with Tuesday's 5-1 rout of visiting New Jersey.

Five different Washington players scored a goal in the win over the Devils and Michal Neuvirth picked up the win with 35 saves.

Andrew Gordon and John Carlson both notched a goal and an assist for the Capitals. Jay Beagle, Jason Chimera and Mike Knuble also scored in the victory.

"It was one of those nights where it was nice to get some breathing room and not be forced to fight tooth-and-nail to the end," said Chimera.

Tuesday's victory also snapped Washington's five-game home losing streak. The Capitals, who are leading the Southeast Division by just one point over Atlanta and Tampa, still boast a strong 13-4-3 record on home ice this season.

However, Washington's win over the Devils also came with some bad news as forward Matt Bradley sustained a broken finger in the game and will miss the next four-to-six weeks of action.

Washington winger Eric Fehr (personal) is expected to return tonight from a one-game absence to attend the funeral of his grandmother. Centerman Matt Hendricks, however, is questionable this evening with an undisclosed injury.

12/23 11:34:54 ET

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